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Maine student survivors to Collins: ‘Kavanaugh is not an acceptable choice’

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 05:34

Denouncing Judge Brett Kavanaugh as an unacceptable choice for the U.S. Supreme Court, University of Southern Maine students participated in a walk-out Thursday afternoon to advocate for survivors of sexual violence — including between 20 and 25 percent of college women — and ask Senator Susan Collins to reject his nomination.

Organized by Huskies for Reproductive Health and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, the walk-out brought together a handful of faculty and more than 20 students, who joined their peers at Bowdoin College and 18 other college campuses nationwide participating in their own walk-outs

“Judge Kavanaugh is not an acceptable choice. Everyone here knows that,” said Hannah Matthews, a campus organizer for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. “I think we know Senator Collins knows that.”

Collins has not yet said whether or not she will vote to confirm Kavanaugh, who is viewed unfavorably by more than half of Maine voters.  Matthews reassured survivors in attendance that their stories were powerful because they were the truth, and that Collins is beholden to the people in her state, including them.

“Susan Collins works for you,” she said. “She does not work for the president. She works for the people of Maine. And she works for women, and for people of color. She works for LGBTQ+ Mainers, and she works for survivors of sexual assault. It is in her job description to protect us and to respect us.”

University of Southern Maine students called Collins’ Washington, D.C.office and found that the senator’s voicemail was full. | Cara DeRose

“How thorough can it be?” asked Maisarah, a women and gender studies student and Saco resident, about Collins’ remark that the one-week FBI investigation into  sexual assault allegations made against Kavanaugh appeared to be very thorough. “I don’t know how thorough FBI investigations can be in a week.”

Maisarah added that she wished Collins could come see the walk-out.

When asked if Collins’ response to President Donald Trump’s comments at a rally mocking Ford was enough, she answered with a firm “no.”

Maisarah, who argued that a one-week investigation couldn’t be described as ‘thorough,’ calls Collins’ D.C. office. | Cara DeRose

“As a senator, no. As a woman, no. You need to believe sexual assault victims when they’re telling the truth.”

“I don’t think we can speculate until we hear her say what she’s going to do,” said Mariah Reed, a leading member of Huskies for Reproductive Health and an Old Orchard Beach resident.

Reed admitted that, at this point, she felt she had no choice but to have faith in the senator.

“I can’t give up hope,” she said.

Kirby Kellogg, a student senator and Jonesport native, believes that the investigation had “gone on too quickly.”

“A week-long investigation is just ludicrous, especially for something of this magnitude,” she said. “This man is going to be a Supreme Court Justice for life. I’d be calling for a much longer investigation and for the information about that investigation — as much as it can be — be released to the American public so they could see exactly the person [being] voted for.”

When asked if she believed Collins will vote to not confirm Kavanaugh, Kellogg was unsure.

“I hate that I’m not sure,” she said.

The University of Southern Maine walk-out occurred an hour before more than a hundred protestors, some also students from the university, convened at Lobsterman Park in Portland and marched to the U.S. District Court as part of an anti-Kavanaugh and pro-survivors demonstration organized by Mainers Against Kavanaugh. While some Mainers participated in a sit-in at Collins’ Portland office, others were simultaneously meeting with Collins’ staffers at her Washington, D.C. office to share their stories and put additional pressure on the senator to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.

(Top photo: University of Southern Maine students who left their classes as part of the nationwide walk-out. | Cara DeRose)

With absentee ballots now available, Question 1 supporters are voting early

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 13:45

With absentee ballots arriving at town offices across the state this week, supporters of Question 1 — the initiative to guarantee universal access to home care to seniors and Mainers with disabilities — rallied outside Bangor City Hall on Thursday to explain why they’re voting early in favor of the referendum and urging others to do the same.

Judith Hilton shows a sample ballot at a press event in Bangor in support of Question 1. “Right now, too many Mainers are losing their life savings, seeing their families torn apart, or being forced into nursing homes because of a lack of basic home care.” | Beacon

“Please join me in heading to your local town hall right now and voting yes on Question 1,” said Judith Hilton, a small business owner who works two jobs to provide care for her 92-year-old father.

“Right now, too many Mainers are losing their life savings, seeing their families torn apart, or being forced into nursing homes because of a lack of basic home care,” Hilton said. “Universal Home Care, paid for by a relatively small tax on those who can best afford it, will only become more necessary as Maine continues to age. It’s time to put this sensible solution into practice.”

Hilton and other supporters of Yes on Question 1 explained that voters can now cast their ballots in-person, requesting a ballot by mail, or visit VoteEarly.me to request an absentee ballot online or find the location of their local town office.

‘If we want to keep young people in Maine, we need to pass Question 1’

Jessica Holz, a former home care worker, who noted that her former colleagues make just above minimum wage, with no benefits and the industry faces turnover of 67 percent a year, said, “I’ve been a home care worker, and I’ve seen firsthand that the current system is unsustainable.”

“If we want to keep young people in Maine, we need to pass Question 1. It isn’t just about helping Maine elderly community members age in their homes, it is also about creating good jobs that pay fair wages, especially in rural Maine,” Holz said.

The initiative proposes to raise home caregiver wages by at least 50 percent.

Home care costs an average of $50,000 a year, compared to more than $100,000 for a nursing home

Alicia Barnes of Common Defense said, “You might think that the VA would cover home care, but too often it doesn’t.” | Beacon

Question 1 will guarantee that all seniors and Mainers with disabilities can get the care they need to stay at home, paid for by narrowing a tax loophole on those who make more than $128,400 a year in personal income, the wealthiest 2.6 percent.

“Maine has one of the largest and oldest veteran populations in the country. You might think that the VA would cover home care, but too often it doesn’t. Too many veterans right now are suffering from a lack of care or are being sent to facilities far away from their families,” said Alicia Barnes, an Iraq War veteran speaking on behalf of the veterans’ organization Common Defense. “It doesn’t have to be this way. With Question 1, we can make sure that no Maine veteran is left behind.”

In addition to being preferable for older Mainers’ well-being, home care is also far less expensive than institutional care, costing an average of $50,000 a year, compared to more than $100,000 for a nursing home. But even that lower expense puts home care services out of reach for most Maine families.

“Let’s honor our loved ones and those who served,” said Wilbur “Skip” Worceseter, a U.S. Army veteran from Hermon. “Join me in voting early, today, for yes on Question 1.”

(Top photo: Jessica Holz speaking at Thursday’s press event in Bangor in support of Question 1. | Beacon)

Rep. Berry: LePage budget office reputation is ‘in the toilet’ after partisan misrepresentations

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 09:19

Former House Majority Leader, Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) says that officials in the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS) — led by Governor Paul LePage appointee Alec Porteous — are misrepresenting the cause of their claim that the state will face a $504-million gap between revenue and spending in the next budget cycle. They say the cause are overcommitments in funding for health care, schools and infrastructure, Rep. Berry says it is actually LePage’s tax cuts for the wealthy.

Rep. Seth Berry said that Gov. LePage’s budget agency is misplacing the blame for the states projected $504 structural budget gap — which he says are the result of tax cuts favoring the wealthy, which he and the state’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review predicted in 2012. “Chickens are coming home to roost and the governor and his agency are saying the buck doesn’t stop with them,” he said. | courtesy of Berry’s Facebook page

DAFS officials issued a statement on Monday, intended as a roadmap for LePage’s successor and newly-elected lawmakers who will begin drafting a new budget in January 2019, that claims Maine faces a $504-million structural budget gap between projected revenue and projected expenditures. DAFS officials claim this gap is largely the result of Maine’s obligations by statute or voter referendum to expand Medicaid to Mainers within 138 percent of the federal poverty line, fund 55 percent of K-12 education, and share 5 percent of its revenue with cities and towns to maintain infrastructure.

While the state is obligated to fund these core commitments, Rep. Berry says the real cause of the projected budget gap is directly tied to LePage’s tax cuts tilted towards wealthy Mainers and large corporations which have precipitated the predicted revenue shortfalls.

“The legacy of this administration is a massive tax break for the wealthy and large corporations that left working families behind, even as the rest of the country recovered from the recession,” said Rep. Berry in a prepared statement on Tuesday.

“Revenue sharing, funding for our public schools and the voter-approved MaineCare expansion help more Mainers thrive, pay their bills and afford the things they need to live a decent life. That’s the only true measure of our state’s economic health,” he stated. “Our success as a state has come despite the governor’s actions, not because of them. It is lucky that for six years, the legislature has been able to reject his most irresponsible ideas.”

State stands to lose out on $864 million in revenue in next budget cycle because of LePage’s tax cuts

Rep. Berry’s statement comes after a report put out last month by the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) that recommends incoming lawmakers eliminate income tax breaks favoring Maine’s wealthy, as well as undo tax havens for large corporations, such as the Maine Capital Investment credit, which their budget analysts say has not proven to spur job creation, raise wages or drive new investment, as the LePage administration justifies them.

The state is projected to have $864 million less in revenue for its next two-year budget than compared to revenues brought in under the 2010 tax code, preceding LePage’s tax cuts, according to the report.

Also, half of the state’s projected loss in revenue has been redistributed to the top one-fifth of Maine households, the report determines, and low- and middle-income taxpayers have had to shoulder rising property taxes — collectively paying an average of $30 million per year more in local property taxes since 2012 — as a result of the state underfunding public education and local infrastructure.

The report, sent to 397 state legislative candidates and all four candidates for governor, recommends that undoing these tax giveaways so that lawmakers can appropriate the $643.5 million necessary to fully fund the state’s core obligations to expand Medicaid, fund 55 percent of K-12 education, and share 5 percent of its revenue with municipalities to maintain infrastructure.

“The Office of Fiscal Program Review, the nonpartisan fiscal office of the legislature, back in 2012 warned that if we enacted the tax cuts for the wealthy that the governor and the majority Republicans were demanding, that we in fact would be looking at hundreds of million of dollars in structural gap in the future,” said Rep. Berry on Wednesday. “And here we are.”

In 2012, Berry wrote a blog post anticipating the budget gaps that are now facing state lawmakers.

“As I predicted six years ago, chickens are coming home to roost and the governor and his agency are saying the buck doesn’t stop with them,” he said. “It does.”

DAFS’ credibility ‘is in the toilet’, says Rep. Berry, echoing Question 1 supporters’ claims about the agency’s partisanship

Kevin Simowitz of Caring Across Generations, left, and Ben Chin campaign manager for Yes on Question 1, right, maintain that “political appointees are trying to play games with” the number of Mainers affected by the home care initiative’s tax on individual incomes over $128,400 per year. | Dan Neumann

Rep. Berry further asserted that DAFS officials have politicized an agency that once produced reliable data on the state’s budget.

“There was a time when DAFS really acted as a nonpartisan, just-the-facts agency,” Rep. Berry said. “I think [DAFS’ credibility] is in the toilet.”

He added, “The maine.gov press release service was never used, prior to this governor, as a vehicle for electioneering and partisan fights. It’s very unfortunate that that’s the case.”

Reflecting Rep. Berry’s comments on that LePage’s budget officials are misleading the public on the state’s budget structural gap, other advocacy groups and political organizers have called attention to DAFS officials’ partisanship.

Last month, organizers with Yes on Question 1 — the campaign to guarantee universal access to home care to seniors and Mainers with disabilities which will go before voters in November — said that DAFS was deliberately misrepresenting the number of Mainers who would be impacted by a proposed 3.8-percent tax on individual incomes over $128,400.

DAFS commissioner Porteous claimed in a Sept. 10 op-ed in the Bangor Daily News that the initiative would tax combined households incomes over $128,400, not individuals, creating what some opponents call a “marriage penalty.”

He pointed to an agency he oversees, the Maine Revenue Service’s interpretation of the imprecise wording of Question 1 on the ballot, which he gave direct input to Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s office in drafting.

“I’m not surprised that political appointees are trying to play games with this,” Yes on Question 1 campaign manager Ben Chin told reporters at a press conference on Sept. 5. “You don’t have to take my word for the individual income part, you can look at the fiscal note produced by the Office of Fiscal and Program Review, the only nonpartisan agency that has analyzed this legislation.”

Chin pointed to a OFPR fiscal note that supported the initiative’s supporters’ assertion that the proposed law, as written, would apply to only individual incomes over that threshold — applying a tax on Maine’s wealthiest 2.6 percent, according to a Sept. 21 report by MECEP.

Additionally, Patrick Strawbridge, the lawyer representing LePage in Maine Superior Court in defense of the administration denying an estimated 70,000 Mainers access to health care through voter-mandated Medicaid expansion, has cited budget forecasts made by DAFS official which anticipate higher expansion costs than other forecasts have made.

In court last week in Portland, Maine Equal Justice Partners, the advocacy group suing LePage’s office for blocking Medicaid expansion, called as a witness an OFPR analyst that refuted the LePage’s budget department’s claims that Maine’s 10-percent share of the expansion costs will climb up to nearly $100 million per year. The OFPR analyst testified in court that the state’s projected cost is actually between $45-50 million per year, with the federal government paying in more than $500 million per year.

(Top photo of Gov. LePage via the governor’s Facebook page.)

Maine women demand to be heard as Sen. Collins’ approval rating slips

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 06:22

A vigil in Portland’s Lobsterman Park on Wednesday evening, part of a national day of action promoted by MoveOn.org, was attended by dozens of Maine sexual assault survivors and their allies who fiercely oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination and demand Collins “look” at them and listen.

“I want to say: Senator Collins, look at me when I’m talking to you,” said Dr. Kim Simmons, a women and gender studies professor at the University of Southern Maine, with the crowd quick to respond: “Look at us!”

“One of the most amazing things that has come out of this horror show is the amount of women who are standing up,” she continued. “For ourselves, for each other, for our communities.”

What women came out to do at the vigil needed to extend beyond the Senate vote for Kavanaugh, she added. From here on out, the “power of our own big voices” must be brought with women everywhere they go, and they must practice telling those who aren’t taking them seriously in their lives to listen when they’re talking.

As Collins continues to remain undecided on the nomination, her standing among Maine voters seems to be slipping. A new poll from Change Research puts her disapproval rating at an unprecedented 59 percent, with 50 percent of voters polled saying they would be less likely to re-elect Collins if she votes to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who remains unpopular in Maine. The internet-based pollster did not release a complete methodology.

“Do we want her to believe women?” asked Amy Halsted, co-director of Maine People’s Alliance, who helped organize the vigil. The crowd responded just as quickly, and loudly, as before: “Yes!”

Some of the vigil’s attendees accompanied Marie Follayter and Di Ni Merz , co-founders of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, as they hand-delivered two boxes containing 1,000 letters from Mainers asking Collins to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination to a staffer in Collins’ Portland office at One Canal Plaza.

Merz and Follayter shared their own experiences of sexual violence and how Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony resurrected difficult memories, as well as showed how unfit Kavanaugh is to serve on the Supreme Court.

“There’s gotta be someone better,” Merz said, with Follayter’s hand resting on her shoulder.

In a shaky voice, Follayter asked that the senator “please listen” to her and the other survivors whose letters were stacked in the boxes and vote to not confirm Kavanaugh.

“For the people she represents,” she said. “For the people she’s charged with protecting.”

(Top photo: Mainers gathered at Lobsterman Park for the vigil. Bottom photos: Maine women writing notes on a scroll of paper for Sen. Collins. | Cara DeRose)

Moody now claims he ‘doesn’t remember’ vowing to repeal Medicaid expansion

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 15:29

After previously stating that, as governor, he would “fight to repeal” Maine’s voter-approved Medicaid expansion law, Republican candidate Shawn Moody claimed at Wednesday’s Eggs & Issues gubernatorial debate in Portland this morning he didn’t remember ever saying he would repeal the law.

“What about Medicaid, though? I think, at one point, in the primary, you said let’s repeal the law,” Paul Merrill, a reporter for WMTW, who tweeted out the exchange, asked Moody.

“No. Well, I don’t remember that,” the candidate answered.  “No, my stance has been pretty consistent.”

The Maine Democratic Party has cited his answer as another instance of Moody trying to distance himself from past positions.

“In the Republican Primary, Shawn Moody took a clear position on Medicaid Expansion. He supported repealing the voter-approved law that would grant more than 70,000 Mainers access to the health coverage they need,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett in a press release. “Now, in the general election, he’s so desperate to run from his own past comments that he’s claiming selective amnesia.”

Moody has also previously asserted that health care is something a person has to earn as claimed that Medicaid expansion — which is expected to help an additional 70,000 to 90,000 Mainers obtain health care — is a “a government bailout for the insurance companies and for the hospitals.”

In perhaps his most clear-cut attack on the law, he said “we can’t let it happen,” even when asked if he would support Medicaid expansion if it were “fully funded.”

(Photo from Shaun Moody’s Facebook page.)

Without home caregiver, Mainer says she “wouldn’t be here”

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 06:21

Ruth is 86 years old, a native Mainer living in South Portland, and since the stroke she had in 2017, the little extra help she gets from Phoebe Shields, her home caregiver, has been the difference between living a full life and not being alive at all.

“I wouldn’t be here without her,” Ruth said, reclining next to Phoebe on a sofa.

After her stroke, Ruth stayed with her son in Cape Elizabeth for three weeks, hauling around a “big and clumsy” walker to get where she wanted to go. By chance, her daughter in law taught at the same elementary school as Phoebe’s father, and when she discussed Ruth’s condition in passing, he mentioned Phoebe was a home caregiver.

Phoebe was supposed to care for Ruth only a few weeks. Over a year and a half later, the two are still together.

Before she took a break and then “stumbled” back into home care with Ruth, Phoebe was employed by a different agency, where she juggled multiple clients. While experiencing and working with people who had a spectrum of needs let Phoebe develop her skills, she observed that working with one person, like Ruth, leads to “a special bond.”

“Whether Ruth thinks so or not,” Phoebe said, catching sight of Ruth’s smirk.

“I tell ya, I’ve got to get the whip out every once in a while,” Ruth joked, making light of Phoebe’s habits, like spending too much time on her phone. “You know how the young people are.”

Since her stroke, Ruth receives in-home caregiving from Phoebe three days per week. | Dan Neumann

“We get along pretty good,” Phoebe continued. “We do fun stuff, besides going to the emergency room. We go to IHOP. Shopping.”

Ruth takes pride in her self-sufficiency, but without a license, which she lost after failing an eye exam, she can’t enjoy the independence she used to have except during the few hours Phoebe is with her.

Beyond shopping and eating out, Phoebe takes Ruth to her physical therapy sessions. She’s also responsible for doing some of the housework Ruth can no longer perform, and Ruth attributes Phoebe’s presence to saving her life whenever she’s needed to go to the emergency room.

The caregiving role requires superb social skills, Ruth said, since she’s noticed that some people her age can be in so much pain they otherwise refuse human interaction. Home caregivers, at their best, give even the most reluctant clients the attention everyone needs, and can adapt well to a client’s personality and preferences.

As Phoebe put it: “You’ve gotta be willing to learn about them.”

While there are many nursing homes in Maine, between the waitlists and the often prohibitively high costs, people are quite limited.

“We’re the oldest state, so it’s surprising how difficult it is for people,” Phoebe said. “And from what I’ve heard from most people, they want to be at home.”

If you have the money, she added, you’re “pretty good” at a nursing home. Without it, things become much harder.

“Some of these [nursing homes] are ridiculously high,” Ruth said. “I have a friend who’s in Gorham House, and when her husband was living, it was $7,000 a month, and they only gave him one meal a day.”

Another one of Ruth’s friend was spending $9,000 a month on a nursing home, or a bit over $100,000 a year, which is about the average in Maine.

“I don’t know how many people have that kind of money,” Ruth said.

The home care Ruth receives is a far cheaper alternative, amounting to only $50,000 a year on average, but caregivers like Phoebe make barely above minimum wage.

Due to the pay, most home caregivers end up quitting, yet Phoebe remains committed to Ruth and caring for those who need help the most.

“I wanna stay with Ruth as long as she’ll keep me,” Phoebe said. “Until she kicks me out.”

Question 1 could help create more relationships like Phoebe and Ruth’s

As the oldest state in the country by median age, thousands of Maine families are struggling with issues of long-term care. Seniors and Mainers with disabilities are often forced into expensive nursing home care because of a lack of financial support for caregiving at home.

Question 1 on the ballot this November could help support home caregivers like Phoebe and their clients, who like Ruth depend on the help they receive to live more independently. If passed, Question 1 will guarantee that all Mainers who need assistance with activities of daily living get the help they need to stay in their homes, funded by a tax on individual income over $128,400.

(Photo: Phoebe and Ruth at her apartment in South Portland. | Dan Neumann)

Debuting in Rockport, ‘The Devil We Know’ tells the story of holding DuPont accountable

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 15:00

Forget Halloween. Here’s something really scary.

On Sunday, Oct. 21, the Maine-based public health organization the Environmental Health Strategy Center joins The Riley School in Rockport for a screening of “The Devil We Know,” a 2018 Sundance Grand Jury Nominee, in advance of the documentary’s wide release on Netflix in 2019.

The film unravels a shocking environmental scandal: the widespread, deliberate toxic chemical contamination of one town’s drinking water supply. In the telling, it reveals the astonishing lack of regulation of the chemical industry.

Tucked in the rolling hills of West Virginia, the town of Parkersburg is described by those who live there as an idyllic place to raise a family. It’s also home to a sprawling DuPont chemical plant that manufactured Teflon.

When Parkersburg resident Wilbur Tennant noticed the cows on his family farm were mysteriously dying, he suspected it might be tied to the adjacent “non-hazardous” landfill operated by DuPont. He filmed what was happening and contacted a lawyer, and the toxic legacy of PFOA — DuPont’s Teflon chemical — was discovered.

As the citizens of Parkersburg rise up against the forces that polluted their town, the story extends far beyond.

Today, PFOA and its chemical cousins — technically known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances or PFAS — can be found contaminating ecosystems across the globe, even as far away as the Arctic. They are also contaminating the bodies of people. Over 97 percent of people in the U.S. have PFAS in their bloodstream, including newborn babies.

Despite the chemicals’ well-known dangers to our health, including links to cancer, infertility, and learning disabilities, companies still use PFAS in some grease-resistant food packaging like take-out boxes and butter wraps, where the harmful chemicals can leach into our food. PFAS may also be found in firefighting foams and water- and stain-resistant fabrics, such as those used in outdoor gear and outerwear, and some household furniture.

And because of the power of the chemical lobby, PFAS are just a few out of more than 80,000+ largely untested chemicals that have been released onto the market, their dangers unknown.

“As a mother, I was shocked to learn there is no real oversight of industrial chemicals before they go to market in this country,” said “The Devil We Know” director Stephanie Soechtig. “When we heard about what happened in Parkersburg, West Virginia — how a handful of citizens took on DuPont — it seemed like the perfect story to highlight and bring to life a very pressing social issue: our daily exposure to toxic chemicals.”

Here in Maine, children and families across the state are unknowingly exposed to toxic chemicals in their food and drinking water, including PFAS.

Over half of Maine people rely on well water for drinking, cooking and bathing. Unlike public supplies, which must have at least some testing and treatment, its solely on homeowners to monitor their wells, leaving them especially vulnerable to pollution. Additionally, one in six wells in the state is contaminated with arsenic, which occurs naturally in some Maine bedrocks. Long-term arsenic exposure is linked to bladder, lung, and skin cancers, and it also damages the developing brains of young children.

When it comes to food, Maine is a state known for it — both for its vibrant restaurants and plethora of family farms. But most Maine families don’t realize that toxic industrial chemicals can leach into the food they eat — even local and organic food — through processing and packaging.

At the screening, the Environmental Health Strategy Center will describe its work for safe food and drinking water. In particular, center staff will describe its upcoming legislative campaign to phase out toxic chemicals, including PFAS and phthalates, entering our food from packaging and processing, that are linked to cancer, infertility, and learning disabilities. Audience members will learn ways they can get involved in this work and take action for safe food and drinking water.

Because while toxic chemicals are truly scary, we can tackle them. On Sunday, Oct. 21, we’ll show you how.

What: Screening of “The Devil We Know,” followed by informational reception with refreshments
When: 2-5 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 21
Where: The Riley School Theatre, 73 Warrenton Road, Rockport
Register: The event is free and open to the public, but space is limited. Register online here.

(Photo courtesy of thedevilweknow.com)

Sexual assault survivors arrested at Sen. Collins’ Portland office

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 08:30

Three Maine women objecting to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court were arrested for trespassing at Senator Susan Collins’ Portland office on Monday.

A staffer for Collins had originally told Tina Marie Davidson, Caroline Pryor, and Sheila Perloff Eddison — who visited Collins’ office along with dozens of other constituents earlier in the afternoon to discuss their opposition to Kavanaugh — that if they stayed past 5:00 p.m., the police would be called.

The women in attendance told stories of their own sexual assaults and pleaded with Collins to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. After some of the petitioners said that they intended to stay in the office until the senator announced her opposition to the nominee, the office was closed early and the police arrived at the office building at One Canal Plaza at approximately 4:40 p.m.

Mainers refuse to leave @SenatorCollins office until she votes against Kavanaugh. #mepolitics pic.twitter.com/qs6L8T7469

— Mainers for Accountable Leadership (@mfalpac) October 1, 2018

Caroline Pryor of Mount Desert stands in front of Tina Marie Davidson of Portland before being escorted into a police van. | Cara DeRose

Still publicly undecided, Collins remains a pivotal vote for or against Kavanaugh, who is currently under a restricted FBI investigation for allegations that he sexually assaulted multiple women when he was younger, including Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

‘Listening to the hearings, I could see in vivid detail the exact way the sheets folded on the bed where I was sexually assaulted’

While Mainers spoke to Collins’s staff about a variety of issues concerning Kavanaugh, the sexual assault allegations against him took center stage, with many speaking to the fear and relived trauma they and their loved ones have experienced.

Rev. Tamara Torres McGovern of Portland came with a story about one of her congregants. She had facilitated a group last Friday, where she worked with congregants over 65 to examine memories and conversion moments, when something “broke open in life,” she said.

Meg Robinson, who said her daughter was “depressed” and “paralyzed” by Kavanaugh and his behavior when he provided his testimony after Ford. | Cara DeRose

One of the congregants who attended McGovern’s service, a 94-year-old woman, was holding a postcard with an image of a bed printed on it. She remarked how her mind was “starting to go.” Some memories, in turn, were slipping away.

“But yesterday, listening to the hearings, I could see in vivid detail the exact way the sheets folded on the bed where I was sexually assaulted,” the woman said, according to McGovern. “It’s been eighty years, and I can remember every single fold of those sheets.”

The woman had been struck by Ford’s “honest testimony.” When Kavanaugh followed, the woman told McGovern that he reminded her of her stepfather, who was an abuser.

Meg Robinson, a Cape Elizabeth resident, is an Independent who had always voted for Collins. After seeing a movie Monday afternoon, she called her daughter, a nurse, who was at home on her day off. Robinson described her daughter as “depressed” and so worried about Kavanaugh she could not move.

“She sits there today, on her day off, and she said, ‘Mom, I can barely move, I am so paralyzed by this,'” said Robinson. “And I think Senator Collins needs to know that this is not okay.”

(Photo: Police escorting Davidson, Pryor, and Eddison, of Mount Desert, into a police van behind the One Canal Plaza building | Cara DeRose)

Graham says Collins asked for limited FBI investigation into Kavanaugh

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 16:01

On the Sunday morning political show, “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said that Senator Susan Collins asked for restrictions on an FBI inquiry into allegations of sexual assault leveled against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

“Reports are that the instructions given to the FBI by the Senate leadership and by the White House actually have quite a limited witness list. Is that true?” Stephanopoulos asked Graham on Sunday.

“I know that Senator Flake, Collins and Murkowski wanted a limited review. They wanted the FBI to talk to the witnesses that Dr. [Christine Blasey] Ford named,” Graham said.

Friday evening, the day after the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimonies from Ford and Kavanaugh, and Graham admonished committee Democrats and pledged to confirm Kavanaugh, Politico reported that Graham and all the potential swing-vote senators he named — Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Collins — met at a D.C. restaurant.

The meeting followed Senate Judiciary Committee member Flake’s vote to move Kavanaugh out of committee, along with his announcement that he would not vote for confirmation in a Senate floor vote without an FBI investigation into sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh.

The resulting inquiry, which will last no more than a week, is not a full-fledged criminal investigation, but a limited background check of Judge Kavanaugh.

The scope of the inquiry is being guided by White House counsel Don McGahn. On Saturday, The New York Times reported that McGahn “is working in concert with Senate Republicans, and senators considered key swing votes have had extensive input.”

McGahn is restricting the FBI from investigating Julie Swetnick’s claims that Kavanaugh was present at a party in the early 1980s when she alleges she was gang raped.

FBI agents conducting the probe are also restricted from interviewing new leads, examining Kavanaugh’s drinking habits, and verifying whether Mark Judge — an eyewitness to Ford’s allegations — worked in a grocery store where she stated she encountered him approximately four to six weeks after her alleged sexual assault.

Last week, when Swetnick’s allegations came to light, Collins said, “Obviously, I take it seriously and believe that it should be investigated.”

However, the scope of the inquiry which Graham and The New York Times say Collins gave input into, does not include investigating Swetnick’s allegations.

Chas Danner wrote in the Daily Intelligencer, “With five days remaining in the arbitrary one-week timeframe demanded by Republicans, it’s looking more and more likely that the investigation will be so limited as to be almost pointless — other than in giving a handful of Senate Republican skeptics enough cover to confirm Kavanaugh.”

Collins has not addressed the issue publicly and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Photo from Sen. Susan Collins’ Facebook page.)

With Kavanaugh vote delayed, Maine women call on Sen. Collins to remember her ‘moral core’

Sat, 09/29/2018 - 08:35

Over 200 Mainers packed Lobsterman Park on Friday, once more demanding Senator Susan Collins stand with Dr. Christine Ford and reject Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Outraged, and knowing the pain Ford experienced all too well, the women who made up a majority of the crowd voiced their determination to hold Collins’ accountable for how she votes: whether she chooses to believe Ford and vote to not confirm Kavanaugh, or chooses to confirm him despite mounting allegations and, as demonstrator Ophelia Hu Kinney put it, be complicit with a predator.

That afternoon, after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Kavanaugh’s nomination, Senate Republicans agreed to delay the Senate floor vote to confirm or reject Kavanaugh another week, allowing for a brief FBI investigation into the multiple sexual assault allegations – including the assault Ford recounted in her testimony on Thursday – that have been made against the judge. Collins has since called the delay “sensible.”

As the demonstration continued in Lobsterman Park, Ophelia Hu Kinney waited outside of Collins’ Portland office for a chance to speak to a staffer.

Kinney, a Moral Movement Maine member and Portland resident, described her feelings in the moment as “equal parts resignation and determination.” People “have to bear witness” to the historical significance of Ford’s testimony for women and for future generations, Kinney said, and a vote for Kavanaugh would show Collins has a “deeply divided public and private sense of morality.”

“I have a lot of questions about who has bought her loyalty, or who has tied her hands,” she said. “But it is heartbreaking to know the people who have voted her in, and depended upon her support, her protection in a time like this, are now finding her to be complicit with a predator, offender, someone we know to be a hostile force to the American people.”

“Every time I talk to her about it, I want to fix it for her. And I want to do something.”

Like many of the demonstrators, Katy Kelleher, a writer living in Buxton, came to the office to compose and hand a staffer yet another note for Collins. Kelleher doesn’t believe enough has been asked of men who have never faced any consequences for what they do to others, and when juxtaposing Ford’s testimony with Kavanaugh’s, the different standards American men and women are held to became apparent.

“I watched the testimony yesterday, I watched both Ford and Kavanaugh speak, and one of  the things that struck me repeatedly was the different standards to which we hold men and women,” she said. “It was outrageous to see such a well-spoken, calm, and courageous woman followed by this very clearly angry, resentful, and borderline abusive person shouting at people in court. Watching that drove home the way we expect women to act and the way we expect men to act.”

With tears welling in her eyes, she mentioned how a “good friend” had called her all week to discuss flashbacks from the time when she was raped in high school.

“Every time I talk to her about it, I want to fix it for her,” she said. “And I want to do something.”

Kelleher’s friend never reported it, and hardly anyone knows, because she knew what would happen if she did – or, as Kelleher said, “she knew who she’d be.” Many pin the blame on a woman’s sexuality, Kelleher said, and not on the men who hurt them.

“That’s how people see young rape victims. They don’t treat them as victims. They treat them as guilty,” she said. “We hold women accountable for men’s actions.”

One of the “most disgusting things” to Kelleher is that she thinks Susan Collins must believe Ford, and possesses the moral core to stand up for survivors, but also thinks that Collins “believes in party over her morals.”

“I believe she believes Ford, and I believe it won’t matter,” Kelleher said. “I want it to matter.”

Contact Sen. Collins

(Top photo: Maine women who participated in the Portland demonstration | Beacon)

Medicaid advocates: It is ‘ridiculous’ and ‘tragic’ that LePage is denying people coverage

Fri, 09/28/2018 - 16:52

After two days of hearings, Maine Equal Justice Partners — an advocacy group that is suing the LePage administration on behalf of the estimated 70,000 Mainers who are now being denied health care through voter-mandated Medicaid expansion — is awaiting a court ruling on whether the administration must expand coverage without legislative funding.

Beginning Thursday, attorneys for MEJP initially argued in Superior Court in Portland that Governor Paul LePage is in contempt of a previous court order that he apply for the federal funding needed to expand Medicaid. MEJP said the governor’s office has applied for an insufficient amount of money by not accounting for the fact that the law took effect July 2.

While 3,500 applicants have been denied access to MaineCare by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services since July, MJEP advocates were concerned that the application will be dismissed because of an intentional error made in the money requested. They said this could potentially mean the state would lose out on the owed Medicaid funding for the first financial quarter, which began in July.

Attorneys for MJEP initially requested that the state’s application be implemented by a court-appointed third party outside of the governor’s office to ensure it is not intentionally sabotaged.

“We’ve made the argument in court that LePage is making a pretty bad faith effort to carry out the court order,” said Alison Weiss, a communications coordinator with MEJP. “SPAs (State Plan Amendments, the application LePage filed) are supposed to be straightforward. It’s kind of an automatic process, but if the LePage administration submits a bad SPA they could deny it on a technicality. We don’t want to see that happen.”

However, on Friday, Maine Public reported that MEJP was no longer requesting a third-party implementor after the state has agreed to send a letter to the federal government acknowledging MEJP’s assertion that Mainers are entitled to retroactive coverage going back to July 2.

‘The fact that we’re still fighting this out in court is really, not just ridiculous, but tragic’

On July 2, the day the voter-mandated Medicaid expansion law took effect, MEJP held a press conference in Portland urging eligible Mainers assert their right to coverage through MaineCare by applying with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. | Dan Neumann

But beyond the legal proceedings, MJEP advocates want to continue to keep the health of the 70,000 newly-eligible Mainers who are currently being denied health coverage at the center of their advocacy for Medicaid expansion.

“What’s important is that people are waiting for care. The fact that we’re still fighting this out in court is really, not just ridiculous, but tragic for folks who are looking for a doctors appointment or a medication refill,” Weiss said.

Julie — who requested Beacon not use her last name because of the stigma associated with being a low-income earner — is 58 and lives in South Portland and has been uninsured for the last five years.

“It’s one thing if you’re sick and you need a hospital stay — then you can get covered. But just basic everyday health care needs. It’s been so long,” Julie said.

Julie used to work as housekeeper at hotels and assisted living centers, now suffers from spinal stenosis and sciatica which she gets treated through Care Partners, which helps low-income and uninsured adult residents in a seven-county service area access primary care and care management.

This summer, she applied for expansion coverage and was denied. MEJP advocates are currently assisting her in appealing the rejection.

“I’ve waited so long for MaineCare to get my teeth done and now they’re popping out of my head,” Julie said.

While Julie waits for coverage, the protracted legal fight, which began in April, continues through the weekend.

LePage must comply with a court order to apply for expansion

On Aug. 23, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ordered LePage’s office file a State Plan Amendment to draw down more than $500 million annually in federal money to extend MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid system, to people within 138 percent of the federal poverty line — which is around $34,600 in annual income for a family of four.

LePage ostensibly followed the order, but he did so along with sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requesting they reject Maine’s application.

The Aug. 31 letter read, “If accepted, the SPA [State Plan Amendment] would commit Maine to expanding the Medicaid program to an additional 70,000 to 90,000 individuals. However, not one dime of the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be needed to pay for the state’s share of the expansion has been appropriated.”

This week, LePage’s attorney Patrick Strawbridge argued before Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy that expansion could not be implemented without the state legislature funding its share of the expansion, even as LePage in June vetoed a $60-million budget appropriation by the legislature for it.  

Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy heard testimony from an analyst from the state’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review — a nonpartisan office within the legislative branch that analyses the fiscal impact of legislation — that refuted the LePage administration’s claims that expansion will begin costing the state up to $100 million per year. The OFRP analyst testified in court that the projected cost is actually between $45-50,000 per year.

(Top photo from Gov. Paul LePage’s Facebook page.)

It’s time to call Susan Collins and beg for our lives again

Fri, 09/28/2018 - 15:33

This week on the Beacon podcast, Taryn, Ben and Mike discuss the testimony of Professor Christine Blasey Ford, the bravery of women who are telling their stories and the choice now before Sen. Susan Collins.

You can call Collins at (202) 224-2523.

Also: James Myall of the Maine Center for Economic policy explains how minimum wage opponents have been proven wrong about every aspect of the effects of raising wages, from employment, tips and prices to the number of children in poverty.

Plus: and update on money raised and spent in the race for governor.

You can ask a question or leave a comment for a future show at (207) 619-3182.

Subscribe to the podcast feed right here using your favorite podcasting app or subscribe using iTunes.

 

Mainers stand with sexual assault survivors, reflect on Ford’s testimony against Kavanaugh

Fri, 09/28/2018 - 07:38

After Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday — where she fielded questions about her accusation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, calling it her “civic duty” despite the terror she felt — Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund (PPMAF) partnered with allied organizations to host candlelight vigils at Congress Square Park in Portland and at West Market Square Park in Bangor that evening.

Dozens of Mainers huddled close together, many survivors of the same kind trauma Ford recounted earlier in the day, as they helped one another keep their flames burning. Attendees hoped to show future generations that, when looking back at this “watershed” moment in history, they “came together as a community, as a country, and stood with survivors and with each other,” according to a statement from Nicole Clegg, vice president of public policy for PPMAF.

During Ford’s testimony, calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline spiked 147 percent, with RAINN, the anti-sexual violence organization that manages the hotline, saying its online chat feature had “unprecedented wait times.” Ford’s testimony, and the days leading up to it, was “intense and exhausting” for Clegg and many others, so providing community spaces where people could support and inspire one another afterwards was important, she said.

Reverend Anne Fowler, an Episcopal priest who spoke at the Portland vigil, recalled her own experience of abuse as a young girl. When she would visit her grandparents’ home in Falmouth, the grandmother she adored would tell her to go upstairs and “say hello to Grandpa.”

Fowler would go, reluctantly, and her grandfather — who had been fired from a law firm for reckless sexual misconduct — would take her into his lap and molest her. He told Fowler that what he was doing to her was their “secret.” Her extended family knew how he behaved, and yet Fowler was always told to climb the dark stairs to his study and say “hello” to her grandfather.

Rev. Anne Fowler speaking at the Portland vigil

Like many other survivors, she had repressed her memories for a long time. Exact details of the abuse had remained elusive until, at the age of 40, a conversation with a therapist brought them back.

“When I had told my family, their reactions were as classic as my experience of recovered memories,” she said at the vigil. “They had to believe me because of my grandfather’s reputation, but their responses weren’t very helpful.”

One “alcoholic night,” her mother said to her, “Well, of course he did it to me too, that’s why I always had trouble with God the Father,” what Fowler described as the “most painful sentence” her mother ever said to her.

When he learned of his daughter’s abuse, her father said, “Well, I’m glad I didn’t know it at the time, or else I would have had to do something.”

“I believe there are undoubtedly more women who suffered abuse at [Judge Kavanaugh’s] hands,” she said. These other women, Fowler said, need help speaking out.

While Maine’s own right-wing media personalities have characterized Ford’s sexual assault claim as a false smear, attendees interviewed at the Portland vigil disagreed.

“It was hard to watch [her testimony] and not feel that she was telling the truth,” said Falmouth resident Judy Webel, who believes that Kavanaugh clearly lied during his testimony. “I don’t think age is an excuse.”

Betsy, from Portland, praised Ford’s composure and clarity, despite the intensity of the Republicans’ response to her answers.

“She was really clear and present. Her testimony was impeccable,” she said.

When asked if Kavanaugh’s treatment during his own testimony was, as suggested by Texas Senator John Cornyn, comparable to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, Betsy said he acted less like he was being persecuted and more like a “privileged white man who has done what he’s done” and “is shocked that he’s being called out on it.” His behavior during his testimony reminder her of a frat boy.

“And this is the person they want on the Supreme Court?” she asked. “It was gross, and it was disgusting.”

Maine U.S. Senator Susan Collins, widely seen as a swing vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, remained undecided Thursday evening.

Mainers dealing with issues related to sexual assault can call a 24-hour helpline at 1-800-871-7741.

(Top and middle photos: Mainers at the Portland vigil on Thursday evening | Beacon)

More organizations endorse Question 1: ‘It’s the moral thing to do’

Thu, 09/27/2018 - 16:18

At St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Brewer on Thursday the Yes on Question 1 campaign — the referendum to guarantee access to home care for seniors and Mainers with disabilities that will be decided by Maine voters on Nov. 6 — announced four major new endorsements.

The Maine Council of Churches, representing seven denominations in Maine, the Maine Education Association, representing Maine teachers, veterans organization Common Defense, and the Well Spouse Association, representing family caregivers, each came out in support of the universal home care initiative.

Corley Byras is a retired school teacher who taught at at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham. She spoke on behalf on the Maine Education Association. | Beacon

These groups are joining more than 40 organizations that announced their support for Question 1 just after Labor Day, according to the campaign’s organizers.

Corley Byras is a retired school teacher who taught at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham for 18 years and the president of the Maine Education Association-Retired. MEA represents more than 24,000 public school educators.

“Question 1 also make our tax system fairer, closing a loophole that currently lets people making more that $128,400 a year in personal income pay less than the rest of us,” Bryas said. “I know a lot of educators — none of them make that much money.”

“For thousands of educators who are struggling to care for their parents and loved ones,” Bryas said, “for thousands of retirees who worry about being able to stay in their own homes, and for the parents of the students we teach, who we see stretched thin caring for both their children and their older relatives, it’s time to make things a little easier. Please vote ‘yes’ on Question 1.”

Rick Alexander, who represents the Well Spouse Association, a national membership organization that advocates for individuals who care for their chronically ill or disabled spouses or partners, said, “It was on our third date, 25 years ago, that my wife Debbie told me she had MS. She handed me a book and I read up and got some knowledge on it and I thought about whether I could do it, and I said definitely yes.”

“We are committed to staying in our home, but it’s harder and harder,” Alexander said. “Full time care is, on average, $50,000 a year. While that’s not as expensive as $100,000 for a nursing home, it’s not something anyone can prepare for.”

Half of Maine’s veterans are over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, giving Maine one of the largest and oldest veteran populations in the country.

Dick Bissell spoke on behalf of Common Defense, which advocates for access to health care and home care for veterans in Maine and across the country. He said the home care initiative would help veterans age on their own terms.

Dick Bissel spoke on behalf of Common Defense, a group that advocates for access to health care and home care for veterans. | Beacon

“You might think that the VA would cover home care, but too often it doesn’t. Veterans suffer from a lack of care or their only option is to be sent to a facility far away from their families,” Bissell said.

“Too many Maine veterans are being left behind,” Bissell continued. “It doesn’t have to be this way. With Question 1, we can make sure that no Maine veteran is left behind. We can guarantee that everyone who needs basic care to be able to stay in their homes can get it, and we can make the whole system more fair, with the wealthiest 2.6 percent paying a bit closer to what the rest of us already pay in taxes.”

Rev. Myrick Cross, of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, spoke on behalf of the Maine Council of Churches, representing seven denominations and hundreds of houses of worship across Maine.

“Guaranteeing home care is available for our families in Maine makes sense economically – it costs about half as much as the projection for institutionalized care in a nursing home,” Rev. Cross said. “It’s also the important, moral thing to do, to respect a persons’ wishes to stay at home in a family situation.”

“There are some opponents to this measure, I know, and most of them stand to benefit from institutionalizing family members, but voting ‘yes’ on 1 will help to support the quality of life, as well as the economic advantages of people in our state,” Rev. Cross said.

(Top photo: Rev. Myrick Cross speaking in favor of Question 1 at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Brewer on Thursday. | Beacon)

Report finds big benefits in Medicaid expansion

Thu, 09/27/2018 - 12:05

The Medicaid expansion should dramatically decrease the number of low-income Mainers without health insurance, according to a new report.

The Georgetown Center for Children and Families found more than three times as large a decline in the percentage of uninsured, low-income adults living in the rural areas and small towns of states that expanded Medicaid, compared to states that have not.

Tricia Brooks, a senior fellow at the Georgetown Center, points out that many hospitals in those non-expansion states have been forced to close or are facing financial strain because of the number of uninsured patients they must treat.

“In expansion states, you see a more vibrant health care economy, where hospitals are adding beds and adding staff, which is good for the local economy,” she points out.

Plans for Medicaid expansion in Maine have been submitted, but Gov. Paul LePage, an opponent of the expansion, has asked federal regulators to reject those plans.

LePage says expanding Medicaid in Maine will cost the state millions.

But Joan Alker, co-author of the report and executive director of the Georgetown Center, counters that several studies have found the benefits far outweigh the cost.

“There’s so much research about this,” she states. “So, from an economic perspective, having health insurance, having this Medicaid coverage, is really important in these rural areas, which are already struggling with higher rates of unemployment and poverty.”

Advocates also say Medicaid expansion brings in far more federal dollars than the state would spend, which provides an economic boost to the entire state.

Brooks notes that currently, 23 percent of low-income adults in rural Maine have no health insurance, a rate virtually unchanged from nine years ago.

“There is no doubt that rural residents in Maine have a lot to gain from Medicaid expansion,” she stresses. “We would expect that an estimated 70,000 residents would gain health coverage.”

Brooks adds that Medicaid expansion also helps rural hospitals keep their doors open, ensuring that those communities have access to health care.

(Photo: Supporters of Medicaid expansion at a press conference in October 2016 | Beacon)

Students demand Poliquin return money from student loan firm accused of illegal acts

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 22:55

A Maine student activism group says campaign donations from the nation’s biggest student loan company to U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin were unethical and believes the Republican Congressman should return the funds.

“I think his choice to accept the money is completely corrupt,” said Maddy Smith of Maine Student Action, an activist organization working on initiatives including a statewide free college policy the group hopes will be introduced to the Maine State Legislature.

Navient Corporation donated a total of $2,500 to the Poliquin for Congress campaign between February 2017 and March 2008. The nation’s largest student loan company, Navient services approximately 12 million student loans, more than half of those through a contract with the U.S. Department of Education.

Poliquin, who is running for re-election in Maine’s Second Congressional District, took a total of $12,000 in campaign donations in 2017 and 2018 from the political action committees of Navient, Wells Fargo, LendingTree and Discover Financial Services, as well as another $5,000 from the Online Lenders Alliance.

“I’m not surprised to see that Poliquin is accepting campaign funds from Navient and other student loan corporations. This is yet another case in which our politicians cease to represent their constituents — instead doing the will of big business,” Smith said. “Our politicians are supposed to stand up for hard-working people, and instead Poliquin is making it more difficult for them to obtain an education while using their money to secure his reelection.”

In January 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) filed a lawsuit accusing Navient of “illegal practices” that increased the difficulty and cost of paying back loans. The suit claims Navient “created obstacles to repayment by providing bad information, processing payments incorrectly, and failing to act when borrowers complained.”

“Poliquin is receiving money from the very corporations he’s rolling back regulations on in Washington,” said Smith, a student at Bates College in Lewiston. “For him to be receiving any donations from any of these student loan corporations is corrupt. The fact that Navient had a suit filed against it for exploitative practices is just the icing on the cake.”

Seth Frotman, who resigned in August as the CFPB student loan ombudsman, claimed in his resignation letter that the acting director, Mick Mulvaney, had allowed the Education Department to “unilaterally shut the door to routine CFPB oversight of the largest student loan companies” while enacting a political agenda as Donald Trump’s budget director. Poliquin was among 113 GOP legislators who supported Mulvaney’s appointment.

“These student loan corporations profit off the backs of students, then use that profit to enshrine their power,” said Smith, who also believes Poliquin should return the other donations in addition to those from Navient. “These student loan companies are major contributors to the student debt crisis in this country which is a cause of food and housing insecurity for many students.”

Smith said the damage caused by extreme student debt is “incalculable,” causing student homelessness and difficulties affording groceries to hit record levels in college towns, as well as financial difficulties lasting long after graduation.

Maine Student Action is fighting what Smith characterized as a corporate higher education system seeking “to profit off people seeking a better job and a better life” through the efforts of students at Bates College, Bowdoin College, the University of Southern Maine, Southern Maine Community College, Central Maine Community College, College of the Atlantic and others.

Maine Student Action’s “Free College for All” policy would include people regardless of income level, geographic origin or citizenship, race, gender or gender identities, sexual orientation, “(dis)abilities,” or incarceration status and criminal records, Smith said.

“The fact is that nobody deserves to go into debt to receive a college education. While student loan corporations boast that they increase the accessibility of college to many, that so-called accessibility comes at a steep price,” Smith said, noting that college loan repayment bills exceed credit card debt.

“This is not accessible education. Student loan corporations don’t care about students — they care about making a profit,” Smith said. “As long as these companies are allowed to control our politicians, our country’s education system will continue to function in a way that dehumanizes its students. As it is now, many simply cannot afford a college education. Higher education shouldn’t be a privilege, it should be a human right.”

Maine Student Action is not planning any letter campaigns, district office visits or public protests against Poliquin, according to Smith, but instead advocates a more traditional solution. “Since Poliquin hasn’t seemed to care much about his constituents in the past, I think the most effective action we can take is voting him out this November,” Smith said.

(Photo from Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s Facebook page)

Poll: By 20-point margin, Maine women oppose Kavanaugh

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 15:38

A new poll released by the Maine People’s Resource Center shows that a majority of Maine voters believe Senators Angus King and Susan Collins should not vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

The poll, conducted in part before and in part after Professor Christine Blasey Ford made public her allegation of sexual assault last week, shows that 52 percent of respondents opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination. Thirty-nine percent supported the nomination and 10 percent were undecided.

The starkest demographic difference in the poll falls along gender lines, with women opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination by a twenty-point margin, 53 percent to 34 percent, and men opposing it by a five-point margin, 50 percent to 45 percent.

Conducted by phone and online from September 14 through 19, the poll has a statistical margin of error of 3.25 percent, 95 times out of 100, and does not capture potential reaction to additional allegations of sexual assault made public this week.

Fifty-four percent of respondents to the survey reported a favorable opinion of Collins, down from 60 percent in October of last year. Forty percent reported an unfavorable opinion, up from 34 percent.

These responses echo the intensifying Maine activism around opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination, with seven Mainers arrested for participating in civil disobedience early this week outside Collins’ Washington, D.C. office.

Another Mainer, Tina Marie Davidson, who is a member of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, was arrested today while participating in civil disobedience and blocking the hallway outside of the senator’s office.

(Photo: On Monday, dozens of protesters gathered outside of Collins’ office in Portland at an event organized by UltraViolet Action to oppose the appointment of a “sexual predator” to the Supreme Court and deliver a note, printed on a thick, white poster board, from Maine sexual assault survivors to the senator. | Dan Neumann.)

Report: Minimum wage law lifted 10,000 Maine children out of poverty

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 05:52

Contrary to Governor Paul LePage’s claim this past summer that Maine’s increasing minimum wage–which will be up to $12 an hour by 2020–is “killing the state,” a new policy brief from the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) finds that the minimum wage law passed in 2016  has instead lifted 10,000 Maine children from poverty and provided low-income households with the largest increase in household income since 2001.

“All evidence suggests that to date, Maine’s minimum wage law has been a resounding success,” said MECEP policy analyst James Myall, the author of the brief, in a press release. “Wages in Maine are up across the board, especially for Mainers with lower incomes, and fewer Maine kids are living in poverty as a result.”

The brief’s findings, which are based on new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, showed that, compared to 2016, household incomes for the bottom quarter of Maine workers were 10 percent higher in 2017. This increase was significantly higher than the 2-percent increases in both 2014 and 2015, regardless of inflation, and was the highest increase since 2001, when the U.S. Census dataset referenced in the brief was first compiled.

Maine child poverty rates as percentages, with a four percent decrease from 2016 to 2017

The number of Mainers under 18 living in poverty has also dipped dramatically, going from roughly 43,000 children in 2016 to 33,000 in 2017, a difference of 10,000 children that can be attributed to the minimum wage law.

“Growing up in poverty can have severe negative consequences for a child’s future,” Myall writes in the brief. “Childhood poverty is associated with lower lifetime earnings, reduced educational achievement and a series of poor health outcomes.”

Children who do not having enough to eat, and whose families are always worried about money, are afforded fewer opportunities to develop the skills needed to thrive in adulthood. When their parents make more, according to Myall, those higher earnings give these children a “shot at success.”

Additionally, as was concluded in one of MECEP’s other briefs on the minimum wage law’s impact, Maine experienced no net loss in jobs that pay close to the minimum wage.

Sen. King and Rep. Pingree join Maine activists in defending Affordable Care Act

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 11:17

Senator Angus King and Representative Chellie Pingree joined Maine healthcare activists on Monday in front of Portland’s City Hall to defend healthcare as a right and to call for the preservation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). King and Pingree were among more than a dozen attendees at the event, which was organized by Protect Our Care, a health care advocacy group that is traveling, by bus, across 23 states to humanize the issue of affordable health care and safeguard the ACA from an administration and GOP-controlled Congress that have actively tried to undercut it.

“Healthcare is not a privilege that can be revoked from those who are too poor or too sick – it is a prerequisite for Americans seeking to live happy, healthy and productive lives,” King said. “This isn’t a radical idea – it’s a compassionate one. Maine people, and people across the country, should not be denied access to the medical care they need”

King, who is up for re-election in November, has previously spoken about ongoing threats against the ACA by Congressional “sabotage” and lawsuits. Recently, when the senator announced that he will not be voting to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, he noted Kavanaugh’s record of restricting “the powers of the national government” to “promote greater access to healthcare,” among other issues.

“There’s a lawsuit pending in Texas that would basically undermine the [ACA] entirely and take away protections for pre-existing conditions,” he said at the event. “I think the figure is that 54 percent of the people of Maine have pre-existing conditions that would prevent their ability to obtain health insurance at all or at anything approaching a reasonable price. That’s what’s so disappointing about these efforts to undermine this law.”

“This isn’t a partisan issue,” said Pingree, who referenced a bill she has proposed to allow for people to purchase their medications in Canada that has bipartisan support. “Everybody knows we have to take on the broader picture of health care.”

Andrew Kiezulas, a member of the Portland Recovery Community Center and founder of the first Young People in Recovery chapter in Maine, spoke to how access to affordable health care is the “cheaper” and more “sustainable” strategy for tackling the opioid crisis–compared to the billions of dollars the country loses annually due to untreated substance-use disorders.

After slipping on ice and sustaining a severe back injury, Kiezulas developed opioid-use disorder under the care of a physician and, when he needed it most, he lost his health insurance. His family was able to support him, but Kiezulas acknowledged that a combination of privilege and luck helped him to recover.

“But privilege and luck should not determine who has access to resources, who finds recovery, and at the end of the day, who lives,” he said.

(Photo via Sen. King’s Facebook)

Mainers erupt in activism as Kavanaugh faces new allegations

Mon, 09/24/2018 - 18:19

A contingent of Maine women and a group of Bowdoin College students were among the over 300 demonstrators who packed the hallway outside of Senator Susan Collins’ Washington, D.C. office today. Seven Mainers were arrested during the demonstration in which protestors related stories of sexual assault to a Collins staffer and chanted “We believe Debbie Ramirez, we believe Doctor Ford.”

Dozens getting arrested outside @SenatorCollins office — over 30 of her Maine constituents came down to #StopKavanaugh. #BelieveSurvivors pic.twitter.com/DaLAd80UU6

— Monica Klein (@MonicaCKlein) September 24, 2018

Ford accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault more than a week and Ramirez alleged over the weekend in a New Yorker article that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her without her consent during her first year at Yale. Kavanaugh has vowed to not withdraw his nomination, describing the allegations as a smear campaign.

Collins is seen as a key swing vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Women speaking out in D.C. and in Maine

Simultaneously with the events in Washington D.C., dozens of protesters gathered outside of Collins’ office in Portland at an event organized by UltraViolet Action to oppose the appointment of a “sexual predator” to the Supreme Court and deliver a note, printed on a thick, white poster board, from Maine sexual assault survivors to the senator.

Joi Harper, a demonstrator at the Maine event who works as an early intervention specialist, said she was “very confused” by Collins’ statements about her needing more time to make up her mind on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“She seems to have very strong statements for Kavanaugh and very weak statements for Doctor Ford,” Harper said.

“It’s terrifying. I work with mothers, and mothers have often already gone through trauma,” she added. “With limited access to health care, birth control, and abortion, we condemn women who are not ready to have children to poverty and then we erase their voices. This is just another assault on women: our bodies are not ours, are bodies are not protected. Our bodies are not worth fighting for.”

Harper also argued that Collins’ weak statements on Ford is evidence that she is, intentionally or unintentionally, “doing the job” of men who want to silence women.

“I’m sure she’s in a position where she wants to maintain her power,” she said.

Lucy Sullivan, a Portland resident, described Collins’ lack of a stance on Kavanaugh as “source of frustration.”

Considering that Collins works in a male-dominated field, “she has to relate to these women on some level,” said Sullivan, “so it’s hard for me to understand not being able to just come out in support and say let’s put on the brakes, we need an investigation. She was also fairly decisive on Al Franken, and to see her not be able to make the same strong statements about Kavanaugh is frustrating.”

While she acknowledged Collins’ willingness to say she is “appalled” by Tweets and comments that are problematic, Sullivan said she wants to see her “channel” that same energy into speaking out against appointees and policies that are equally problematic.

A national walk out

To show solidarity with Ford, a national walk-out–when at 1:00 p.m. sexual assault survivors and allies wore black, walked out of their workplaces, homes, and classrooms, and posted photos online with the hashtag #BelieveSurvivors–also took place on Monday. Those who couldn’t participate by walking out were encouraged to post a video or picture on social media to show their support for the event.

“Dr. Blasey Ford has bravely come forward with her story of sexual assault at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh, despite knowing this will come at great cost to her life and her family,” read the Planned Parenthood Action Fund release about the walk-out. “Her willingness to testify in the face of relentless bullying, victim-blaming, and unfair Committee process by Republicans is yet another symbol of her courage and her willingness to speak her truth. She is not alone.”

#BelieveSurvivors pic.twitter.com/VPJ2b32F6R

— Maine Family Planning (@FPAMaine) September 24, 2018

 

 

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